”The halls are full everywhere I go” – Iiro Rantala prepares for a busy 2016

Pianist and composer Iiro Rantala received a German Jazz Gold award on January 26th. The award was given to Rantala after his 2011 album Lost Heroes (also his solo debut) had sold 10,000 copies. The album had already won the prestigious German Critics’ award ’Jazz album of the year 2011’.

In August 2015 Iiro Rantala released his latest album My Working Class Hero, a collection of John Lennon songs, which also got high acclaim in international media. The album was Rantala’s sixth recording for prominent German jazz label ACT and his third solo release altogether.

We took the opportunity to interview Rantala about his German Jazz Gold award, his last year’s experiences and plans for 2016.

Did the sales of Lost Heroes surprise you, or were you expecting a gold disc?

I was expecting nothing, really. Usually solo piano albums sell less than band albums. But something went really right this time. Maybe the stars were in the right position or something.

Since the release of Lost Heroes, you’ve had a successful co-operation with ACT Records. What is your working relationship with the label like? Do you just send them the masters when your new album is done, or do they want to participate in the creative process of each record? 

They participate a lot. I negotiate about everything with (the label's President) Siggi Loch. I have to pitch my ideas to him, send demos and sometimes even play him my new compositions. On some projects he gives me the green light right away (like the Lennon album), but sometimes I have to work harder to convince him, like on my string trio album Anyone with a Heart. But all this has a positive effect. I'm putting in more work and thought for my albums nowadays and the music wins.

In 2015 you’ve played a lot of shows in the GSA area. What was your best experience in Germany, Austria or Switzerland in 2015?

The best part is that the halls are full everywhere I go. They’re not necessarily big halls, sometimes they are venues for 100–200 people, sometimes they are 300–500 capacity. But no empty seats. That is neat, I feel I've found my audience.

A big part of the shows you played in fall 2015 was built around your last album My Working Class Hero, based on John Lennon songs. Are you going to continue playing these sets this year?

Yes, it goes on for this year still. But in the future, we will limit the Lennon stuff for around his birthday, October 9th.

Your next release will be called Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic V: Lost Hero – Tears for Esbjörn. Can you tell us something about that project?

It’s a live album, recorded on 1st of October last year at Berliner Philharmonie. I had never worked with Viktoria Tolstoy and Ulf Wakenius before this. We had one rehearsal, a soundcheck and boom – the gig. That's how it happened. I'm very happy about this album. The playing sounds very spontaneous. And that's because it was very, very fresh.

Do you have a busy touring schedule planned for this year so far?

My ongoing projects include Lennon solo piano, duo with Marius Neset, duo with Ulf Wakenius, duo with Jukka Perko, trio with Lars Danielsson and Morten Lund, EST Symphony live at Stuttgart Jazztage. I’m also recording in Stockholm in June. And I’ll be doing a music box improvisation tour with cartoonist Ville Ranta in Germany and Switzerland.

Special shows in Finland include Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 21 at Crusell Week with Jousia Quartet, a concert of Anyone with a Heart with a Swiss Youth Orchestra and a show accompanying Aki Kaurismäki’s mute film Juha (1999) with a new piano music at Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.

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iro Rantala's facebook page